Birds, bees and octopuses

As you may already know, we couldn’t play Cupid to giant Pacific octopuses Pancake and Raspberry this year—turns out Cupid’s arrow had already hit the mark with female Raspberry, who started laying eggs before her blind date with male Pancake. On Valentine’s Day, we released her back into Puget Sound, which will allow her to find a den in which to lay the remaining vast majority of her eggs.

Giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

But if Pancake and Raspberry had actually met…and if the proverbial sparks had flown between them…what actually would have happened? In other words, how do octopuses reproduce?

If you look carefully at a male octopus, you’ll notice that one of his eight arms is not like the others. When mating, the male uses that special arm, called the hectocotylus arm, to transport a spermatophore from his mantle into the female’s. His sperm is deposited into her oviduct, to be stored in an organ called the spermatheca until they are needed.

The eggs themselves only become fertilized as they are being laid; they must pass through the spermatheca before exiting the female octopus’ body. Each fertilized egg is then coated in a nutritious, protective jelly and a protective sheath, called the chorion, before being laid inside the den chosen by the female.

Pancake, a giant Pacific octopus at the Seattle Aquarium

Interested in learning more about octopuses, and/or trying to spot a male’s special arm? Join us for Octopus Week, February 18–26, featuring hands-on activities, special talks and more each day!

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